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Bucky Gleason: With nonconference games behind them, UB readies the reset button

The result was immaterial long before the University at Buffalo limped off the field Saturday, so nobody was overly worked up over a nonconference loss to Nevada. The Bulls can quickly move past their final tune-up before sinking their teeth into the meat of the schedule.

If you really need the particulars, fine. We aim to please.

Nevada packed a 24-21 victory into the storage bin before flying back to Reno. The Wolf Pack gained 202 yards rushing in the first half. James Butler had a 91-yard run and finished with 177 yards rushing and a touchdown. Tyler Stewart traveled 113 by land and had the other two TDs, including a 55-yard scamper to the house.

Buffalo will push the reset button after splitting the four nonconference games, a 2-2 record that sounds about right. None will matter if the Bulls win enough remaining matchups in the Mid-American Conference, but here’s what does going into next week’s game against Bowling Green:

The Bulls are in good hands under coach Lance Leipold, who reaffirmed the idea that good coaching translates to all levels. He already has more losses through four games in Buffalo than he had in the previous two seasons at Division III. UB fans should take comfort knowing his next boneheaded decision will be his first.

He’s a considerable upgrade over Jeff Quinn.

It’s enough to put people at ease.

“I’m not at ease with anything right now, to be honest,” Leipold said after the game. “We got to take the good and build whatever we can on that. And we’ve got to take the bad and correct it as quickly as possible.”

The two biggest questions going into the season were about Leipold, who was making the transition from Wisconsin-Whitewater, and a defense he was forced to rebuild after inheriting only three returning starters. UB’s offense figured to be their greatest strength given senior quarterback Joe Licata’s ability and experience.

Leipold has been the least of their problems. He’s respected by his players, He knows how to prepare a team and manage games. The Bulls blew out Albany in the opener and gave Penn State all it could handle for three quarters before falling in Happy Valley. Leipold has yet to be outcoached.

Overall, UB’s defense has been solid under coordinator Brian Borland. The unit accounted for 23 points and made the difference in the 33-15 victory over Florida Atlantic last weekend. Rather than make big plays and assert themselves at home Saturday, the Bulls’ defense allowed them against Nevada.

UB gave up the 91-yard run to Butler that led to him scoring a play later before allowing a 55-yarder to Don Jackson on the next series. At one point, the Wolf Pack piled up 157 yards rushing on six – yes, six – carries. Nevada appeared ready to ground and pound but instead tried forcing a passing game that didn’t exist.

Licata had two critical turnovers, throwing one interception in the end zone on a prayer with too much air and another in the fourth quarter with UB on the move. He was part of a poor exchange that resulted in Jordan Johnson’s fumble on the final drive, but he also threw for 338 yards and two TDs.

The longer opposing teams allow Licata to hang around, the greater likelihood he will find a way to beat them. Nevada came to its senses early in the fourth quarter when Jackson surged through the middle on a 10-yard run for a 24-13 lead. By then, the Bulls had allowed 285 yards on 33 carries.

Buffalo can dismiss the two long runs and rationalize that it surrendered 143 yards on 38 carries, making the defensive performance more respectable than it appeared. The Bulls better hope it was nothing more than two terrible plays because they’re going to be tested again in the coming weeks.

“We know we can stop the run,” linebacker Nick Gilbo said. “We’re going to come back Monday and work really hard at it.”

Licata is the most astute quarterback in the conference and could be the most accurate. He has shown the efficiency that UB has come to expect in his third full season as a starter. He played well Saturday, but he has been short of spectacular in the first four games. The Bulls need him into form to become a factor in the MAC.

Still, he wasted little time exploiting mismatches Saturday. The Bulls had a tough time running the ball early in the game. Licata accepted what the defense offered, took some big hits along the way and had his first 300-yard passing game this season. Twenty of his 28 completions were to Rob Willoughby and Matt Weiser.

He gave UB a chance to win.

“We’ve proven that we can move the ball,” Weiser said. “Our defense has been playing out of their minds. We’ve shown that we can do it. We just need to clean up the mistakes and carry over all the good things we’ve done on offense. We’re excited for” the conference games.

UB has a 1-2 punch with Anthone Taylor (1) and Johnson (2), who combined for 179 yards rushing behind an offensive line that had its hands full Saturday against Nevada’s front seven. Buffalo’s front seven was pushed around by Nevada’s offensive line. The Bulls were fortunate to be down a touchdown at halftime Saturday.

How much does all this apply to the MAC?

We’ll find out starting next week when UB plays its first conference game under Leipold against Bowling Green. Buffalo made good use of its nonconference games. The Bulls followed up their breezy win over Albany with three competitive matchups. Bowling Green is capable of beating Penn State.

UB was picked to finish fifth in the seven-team East Division. The Bulls should be competitive, and their defense should keep them in most games. Leipold is an intelligent, innovative coach who knows how to make adjustments. The real test for everybody begins next week.

“Every week, we’ve been growing in different phases of the game,” Johnson said. “We have to start putting it all together, have a great week of practice, learn from this loss and get out there and play four quarters.”

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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